Microsoft Security Essentials review

Microsoft is having a second stab at the anti-virus suite, only this time its package is free. Has it got it right second time around?

4
Verdict: 
This free antivirus software doesn’t set out to protect you from every possible danger. That may sound like a weakness, but it makes for a simple, lightweight package. There’s now no excuse for not running security software on every Windows PC.

Security Essentials is Microsoft's second go at producing a standalone security package for Windows.

It replaces the now-discontinued Windows Live OneCare, but takes a fundamentally different tack. Where OneCare was a commercial package, positioned as a comprehensive security solution, Security Essentials is free and – as the name implies – keeps things as simple as possible.

In practice, that means a minimal feature set. Security Essentials doesn't use fancy cloud analysis or sandboxing techniques like most commercial antivirus packages. It adds nothing to the standard Windows firewall, and makes no attempt to warn the user away from phishing websites or hijacked pages.

But it will check the files on your hard disk and intercept known malware before it can wreak havoc. That should be enough to keep you safe from the vast majority of online nasties, be they worms, viruses, Trojans or whatever.

And in our tests, Security Essentials did indeed detect almost all of the malware we pitted it against, picking up 96 per cent of our selection of live files. That’s a very creditable score, though Avira’s free AntiVir package scored 100 per cent.

The no-frills approach brings some collateral benefits too. In terms of ease of use, Security Essentials is hard to beat. Its interface comprises just four tabs, labelled "Home", "Update", "History" and "Settings". It’s laughably easy to get an at-a-glance view of your protection status and launch manual database updates (regular updates come down with Windows Update, making it effortless to manage Security Essentials in a business context). You can also check detected items, and access simple options such specifying folders and file types to ignore.

Specifications: 

System Requirements:

OS: Windows XP, Vista, 7

CPU: 1GHz or higher

Display: 800 x 600 or higher

HDD: 140GB capacity free

Connectivity: Internet connection required